The Decade of the 1990’s at ZHS
The World Wide Web was born in 1992, launching Americans to communicate via email and use the web for work and leisure. By 1994, 3 million people were online. The 1990s were also known as the Merger Decade with changes in how the country did business. Issues of interest were health care, social security reform, and gun control which were debated during the whole decade. The community of Zephyrhills celebrated its fifth new school, Chester Taylor Elementary in 1997—that served to continue the tradition which was started in 1910.
At ZHS there was a great deal of debate over a variety of issues. News archives show some particular protest debate topics: the location of ZHS graduation in 1990, a petition and walk-out by 600 students on the use of polystyrene by the ZHS lunchroom and its effect on the environment and more world awareness with college-level courses at the school.
The 1990 graduation-debate centered on the graduating class wishing to have an outdoor commencement in the football stadium. The principal, Larry Robison, had given a decree that this would not be considered and in response, the Valedictorian (and Class President), Tommy Gregory spearheaded a response that included Tampa Tribune editorials and debate which overshadowed the graduation itself. Tommy spoke to the school board on behalf of the class, and the Tribune said of his presentation, “his articulate presentation must have given School Board members satisfaction. Now school officials ought to give him and the other 214 graduating seniors at Zephyrhills High some satisfaction—honor their request to have graduation ceremonies at the football stadium.”
Gregory said in his written editorial:
Another ZHS protest in June 1990 led by student, Derek Harmeson, illustrates a growing concern for the environment. Some 180 ZHS students gathered at the ZHS flagpole to protest the use of polystyrene lunch trays in the ZHS cafeteria…and the organizer, Derek, pointed out with pride the diversity of the ZHS protesters and their cause…
The News reported that some ZHS teachers who grew up in the civil disobedience days of the 60s backed the protest…and rescheduled tests in support of the student’s efforts as well.
Harmeson pointed out the subgroups of ZHS in his appeal that the protection of the environment was coming from all factions, but it is noteworthy in retrospect that ZHS was truly becoming a very diverse community of students with a growing Hispanic population and a much more multi-cultural population. The World Wide Web was providing awareness and a greater level of tolerance and acceptance during the 1990s as well.
A particular innovation in clubs was the institution of a formal mock trial program, Teen Court, initiated with the Pasco County State’s Attorney’s Office in which ZHS students were trained on the judicial system and actually made recommendations on the client’s volunteer basis for sentencing/consequences of actual juvenile cases in the court system. The first mock trial group in 1999 was composed of ZHS students, Sumico Austin, Jackie Butler, June Dawson, Matt McLaughlin, Josh Proctor, Princess Roshell, Lakia Stewart and Danny Wenhold. The then State Attorney Ms. Babb spear-headed the training and advocated with county agencies for funding; she later became Judge Linda Babb, and continued to be an activist for youth issues.
Ryan Pickett was without a doubt the central figure of the decade at ZHS in Sports. The 1998 All-Sun Coast Defensive Player of The Year, Ryan was selected for the USA Today’s High School All-American Football Team which earned him the right to play in their Florida-Georgia All-Star Game. The USA Today and Parade Magazine predicted he would dominate his opponents at this 14th annual Florida-Georgia game on June 20th at the Georgia Dome and he in fact did just that—with nine tackles, a sack, two quarterback pressures and a fumble recovery. Ryan was rated by some recruiting services as the best defensive linemen in the country. He was also well-thought-of by his graduating class and when his name was announced at the 1998 graduation, the entire senior class did a “wave” to honor him when he was presented his diploma. Ryan chose to become an Ohio State Buckeye out of ZHS, and after playing for Ohio State, Ryan joined the Green Bay Packers and then the St. Louis Rams. ZHS was thrilled when the ZHS protégé, Ryan Pickett played in the Super Bowl in 2002.
Some other ZHS football stars of the decade were Mike Barber, running back, who was a two time All-Sunshine Athletic Conference Selection who signed with North Dakota in 1997; Brett Cimorelli, a star throughout his ZHS career who graduated in 2000 and was a star on the FSU Seminole team throughout college and ZHS football player, Tommy McLeod, recruited by Yale in 1992.
A near perfect season in ZHS football in 1995 made school history. At the Gulf High game in November 1995, reporter Roger Mills said in the St. Pete Times,
By the 1990s, Title IX had made a true impact on girl’s sports at ZHS and several girls made their mark. Four outstanding ZHS girl’s golfers made state and national headlines. Erin O’Neil dominated the golf arena all four years of high school—second in the state golf tournament in May of 1991, and starring consistently as a top player until her graduation from ZHS in 1993 (she took advantage of the NCAA’s early signing in November 1992 at University of Georgia, the nations’ second ranked division 1 women’s golf program). Erin qualified for the grand slam event of the US Women’s Open in 1994. Other noteworthy ZHS girl golfers were Tracy Negoshian and Robyn Rinaldo. Tracy was district runner up in the All-Sunshine Conference Golf Match in 1998. Robyn Rinaldo who was tied for the 21st place ranking in 1995 by Golf Week Magazine and signed with Mississippi State. Tracy Negoshian, 1999, was also widely acclaimed as a girl golfer.
In ZHS Soccer, Erin Dodd was named to the Class 4A all state soccer team in 1997 and signed with the University of Memphis. Erin scored a school record of 147 career goals while at ZHS. ZHS Volleyball in 1998 was exceptional and boasted the 4A District 8 Title. A ZHS athlete, Lisa Cherry, earned an appointment to the Air Force Academy in 1992.
ZHS got its first swim team in 1997 with teacher, Shannon Smith Mathews, a former ZHS grad, coaching the swimmers and using the pool on the Hercules Aquatic Center area, adjoining the school (once owned by the school board). The 1996 wrestling team was the district champion and played in the state meet. By 1999, the swim team applauded Jeff Borders as the State Meet Qualifier in the 100 Butterfly.
Intellectually ZHS seemed to be excelling in science if stars were any indication. ZHS’s Christine Rinck went to the 43rd fair and took fourth place in biochemistry in Nashville (her project was on how plant hormones can counteract the effect of reduced light.) Gregg Hilferding also qualified for the International Science and Engineering Fair in May 1996 with his project. The school newspaper, now the Bulldogger, was named the best high school newspaper in Pasco by the Pasco Times and the 1996 Valedictorian, Chut Sobutmai, praised the school publication that had evolved through many namings and formats from the early days of ZHS.
Advanced Placement courses which began the decade before were now mainstays for college bound students. The ZHS pioneers were Don Woods, AP Biology; Dale Palmer, AP Government/Economics; and Gail Reynolds, AP Literature; all three teachers being revered by their students. State universities were now requiring a formula-driven admittance in which a certain array of AP courses had to be taken to be competitive for college admission, and ZHS was rising to the occasion. AP classes, originated by the College Board, were in fact, college-level courses taken during the school day on campus. ZHS also entered into an agreement with Pasco Hernando Community College for students to earn credit in a program known as Dual Enrollment.
Vocational classes diminished in numbers during the decade but some additional options such as auto-mechanics and ROTC were added. Numerous business partnerships re-emerged in this decade and manifested themselves in scholarship projects and recognition programs such as the Chamber of Commerce Student of the Month and others. ZHS guidance counselor, Elise Hanna, announced that the 1997 graduating class had received over $800,000 in scholarship monies with $300,000 coming from local clubs, organizations and businesses.
This was the era of multiple valedictorians and salutatorians with numerous ties in the academic rankings at the top of the class. Noteworthy of these shared honors were the 1993 Vals who were identical twins, Monu Bedi and Sonu Bedi. Always witty, the two presented their graduation speech as a good natured debate of competitive qualifications at the June 1993 Commencement. The decade of exploring ideas and expressing viewpoints is certainly reflected in hometown Monu and Sonu. Monu become a JAG attorney and spoke at the 2005 ZHS honors ceremony as an alum about his experiences. Sonu, also an attorney, teaches law at Dartmouth; both speak of pride about their ZHS roots!